(de)regulation nation

"I want a candidate who isn't the lesser of two evils"

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking Trump administration environmental rollbacks, along with who’s fighting back and what’s going right.

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This week Trump’s rollback of Obama-era methane pollution caps broke big in mainstream TV news.

Subjectively, it seems like the most coverage devoted to the administration’s environmental policies (as opposed to ethics scandals, such as former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s misuses of taxpayer dollars, corrupt self-dealing, and other abuses of office) since the president announced that he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

A sampling:

Democrats in Congress promptly announced that they intend to throw sand on the procedural gears, although their powers in a split Congress are limited. Senator Dianne Feinstein has vowed to “look at all options available to block this new rule, whether in the courts or through a resolution of congressional disapproval.”

Until the rule is finalized, however, there few pathways open for lawmakers to block it; and even then, those are more likely to be gestures that will play into 2020 general election campaigning, than moves that will keep the methane rules in place.

This methane rollback is shaping up as one of the most complex enviro stories of the Trump era. But that’s not because it’s wholly unsupported by both climate and public health science, nor because it ignores the federal government’s legal responsibility to lower greenhouse gas pollution.

It’s because this rollback appears to be splitting its nominal beneficiary, the oil-and-gas industry writ large, into winners and losers.

As NPR reports, “the Trump administration argues it would save the oil and gas industry $17 million to $19 million annually in compliance costs. But that's ‘such a small fraction of the industry total cash flow that it's just laughable,’ says Harvard University's Steven Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science.”

Those savings would largely go to smaller firms that have been harder-pressed financially to meet the Obama-era rule. Meanwhile (I am given to understand), oil-and-gas majors like BP, Exxon, and Shell, have already spent big to meet the rule’s mandates for slashing methane leaks.

Some reporting, such as this coverage in TIME, has touted Big Oil’s support for the methane leak crackdown “as evidence of how backward the move must be” (and between the size of the US natural gas industry and the speed of climate change, it really is a frightening and regressive rollback).

But some skepticism is warranted. This is the same industry that has for decades dismissed the effects of its products on climate stability (despite knowing better from its own scientists), in favor of conducting business as usual, creating and sustaining climate change denial, and working against national and international climate action.

So their support for the Obama-era methane rule could be as simple as that it’s helping them squelch competition from below.

Also, as I noted in a recent newsletter, scientists have begun to prove that leaky North American natural gas production is a leading source of ultra-climate-heating methane pollution. Meanwhile, US producers are marketing natural gas overseas as a climate-friendly off-ramp from heavily polluting coal-fired power.

It will be harder to sell that story once the Trump administration erases strict rules against methane pollution.

It’s tempting to see this and other reputational hits inflicted by Trump’s avid fossil fuel embrace as contributing to the oil-and-gas industry’s relatively anemic spending to date on Trump’s re-election. Big Oil donated big to Trump’s inauguration committee, as InsideClimate News reported in 2017. But the sector is holding off so far on pitching in to keep Trump in the White House, according to the Houston Chronicle: “Through the first six months of this year, Trump’s campaign fund had drawn less than $89,000 from the oil and gas industry, only about $600 more than the Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke…”

Complicated, am I right?

better

A recent White House directive to federal agencies, telling them it’s okay not to factor climate change into their decisions, may guarantee that more of those decisions will land the administration in court.

“Environmental critics and industry supporters alike are concerned the June 26 guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality may not be enough to shield federal agencies’ decisions on infrastructure and energy projects from being reversed by the courts,” reports Bloomberg Environment.

Nearly 20 attorneys general co-signed a letter opposing the White House move, called a “guidance” in policy-speak, as “an attempt by the Trump administration to disregard climate change impacts when conducting environmental reviews as required under the National Environmental Policy Act,” reports Climate Liability News.

“While a critical comment letter is not as forceful as a lawsuit, it could help lay the groundwork for future legal challenges,” CLN notes.


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good

Not good preamble

Irreplaceable forests worldwide, from the Brazilian Amazon to Alaska’s Tongass, are being threatened by climate-change-denying strongmen and their regimes with burning and logging.

Gizmodo: “Noted forest management expert Donald Trump wants to log world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.” So does supposedly climate-aware and moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’s called for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to be completely liberated from a major conservation mandate called the roadless rule, as Alaska Public Media reports.

Now the good part

There’s a growing, countervailing trend towards human-forest peaceable co-existence:

  • The Amazon rain forest’s “early inhabitants numbered in the millions, and that they managed the landscape intensively, in complex and sustainable ways — offering lessons for how we manage the Amazon today,” reports Ensia.

  • The Karuk Tribe has a plan that would ditch the century-old US Forest Service practice of suppression, and return ecologically-vital fires to northern California forests in ways safe for animal and human communities. “Prescribed burning, in particular, has been a key part of cultural practices of Indigenous people for millennia,” The Revelator reports. “The Karuk’s climate-adaptation plan is an effort to shift the management dynamic and builds on some recent cooperative work among the Forest Service, the Karuk and other local groups.”

  • Some southeastern US states are rejecting fire suppression in favor of prescribed burns, making forests healthier while also reducing wildfire risks, as I noted in this back issue of (de)regulation nation.

  • Europe has successfully reversed its own multi-millennia heritage of rampant forest-clearing, reports DW, in favor of replanting “with an eye to sustainability.”

  • I know this is a more complicated story ecologically as well as geographically, but this is the world we live in. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, scientists are recording remarkable re-inhabitation by insect and plant species in replanted forests, according to Reuters.

  • In Indonesia, forest burning has decreased dramatically under “policies aimed at addressing root causes of fires, such as deforestation [for palm oil plantations] and poor management of peatlands,” reports Ozy. According to the story, other tropical nations including Peru, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, are looking to Indonesia’s policies to protect their own forests.

great

The great news today, if you’re in the US, is that it’s the beginning of a holiday weekend. If you’re in a position to take a break, I hope you’ll take it, and enjoy it.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. You’ll find links to my other work at my website .

Follow me on Twitter: @ejgertz

Please send tips and suggestions to: emily@deregnation.com

This week’s quote is by artist Zoe Leonard, from her “I want a president” manifesto.